Tuesday, 28 October 2014

A mix of seasoning


Common Snipe (John Hawkins)

The exceptionally warm and sunny second half of October, which followed two weeks of generous rains has brought us a landscape of special beauty. Extremadura's second spring still flourishes right to a Halloween climax. Not only have we witnessed waves of flowering of autumn beauties such as Serotine Narcissus and Autumn Snowflakes, ephemeral but powerful too as they symbolise the breaking of the drought, but the pastures are lush with grass that keeps on growing. Humans are readily deceived by the fickleness of seasons, and so it seems are many insects too: it is the end of October but  there is still much to see. Without any real effort over the last couple of days I have found nine butterfly species and half a dozen dragonflies.

Birds however are different. Most are programming their annual cycles, breeding and migration on day length. We have the somewhat curious experience at the moment of days looking and feeling like full spring, yet with an avifauna that does not match. Just over a week ago I saw my first Common Cranes of the autumn, a family party aptly standing, framed indeed, in oak dehesa. Within less than a week, there are now other groups arriving on the stubble fields to feed. Robins and Song Thrushes are in the garden, whilst on the plains Common Starlings are feeding beside their larger, stockier Spotless cousins. Wintering Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps are piling in, as indeed are waterfowl on the reservoirs.
Rice harvest (Martin Kelsey)
To the south of us, in the rice-growing areas, harvest is well underway, but there are still many fields left to cut. This activity will be taking place this year well into November, prolonging the period of feeding bonanzas for gulls and egrets in the  fields where the stubble gets turned over into the ooze. Waders are present too, but the species profile is changing - dominated by those that will remain through the winter such as great numbers of Common Snipe, rather than passage transients.

Perhaps the weather does play some tricks on the birds, one is used to hearing the autumnal song of Robins as they establish and defend their winter territores, but today I relished at the sight and sound of drumming snipe, a vibrant buzz rather than a drum, and wholly unexpected, as the bird towered above me and then dropped vertigiously, causing specially adapted tail feathers to vibrate. It is a behaviour I associate with the hormone rise of spring.

Quinces (Martin Kelsey)
On our modest plot of land, there has been a glut of quinces, with many kilos turned to jam or frozen, but most are still hanging from the branches, now buckled and mishapen by their weight, or lie as lemon-yellow fragrant orbs in the emerald lushness of the orchard floor. And for the first time, weather and my time have coincided perfectly for me to have completed preparation of the vegetable garden, drawing wholly on our own garden compost, and have sown earlier than ever our broad beans and garlic for next year. There are few things that provide as much satisfaction to me as seeing the marker sticks in place showing the start and finish of rows, where hidden from view, the germination process is about to commence.

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